sat 04/02/2023

Callum Au and Claire Martin, Cadogan Hall review - 'Songs and Stories' live at last | reviews, news & interviews

Callum Au and Claire Martin, Cadogan Hall review - 'Songs and Stories' live at last

Callum Au and Claire Martin, Cadogan Hall review - 'Songs and Stories' live at last

From delicious reboots of Porter and Mitchell to newly composed Homeric delights

Unfathomable loveliness: Callum Au and Claire MartinKenny McCracken

Recorded in 2019, released in 2020, and winner of Album of the Year at the 2021 Parliamentary Jazz Awards, it was a delight to finally witness the launch of Callum Au and Claire Martin’s spectacular album of jazz standards and American Songbook classics, Songs and Stories, albeit three years later than planned.

Written by Au especially for this concert, the swirling, shape-shifting counterpoint of orchestral opener “Murmurations” featured the first of a number of towering solos from saxist Nadim Teimoori (playing soprano here), with string harmonics and a tintinnabulating celeste emerging out of the harmonic cloud to usher in its magical ending.

It’s testament to Martin’s flawless pitching that, even without her monitor working and with the full weight of an orchestra behind her, she still managed to centre every note of “Pure Imagination” and a blazing big band romp through “Let's Get Lost”.

With tech gremlins sorted, one of Hoagy Carmichael’s most beautiful songs, “I Get Along Without You Very Well”, perfectly showcased the unfathomable loveliness of Martin's voice in an arrangement that featured a dramatic textural drop-out to just voice and piano before its close. Prior to a barnstorming take on “When You Wish Upon A Star”, Au gave a well-deserved shout-out to Louis Dowdeswell for performing the triple shift of lead trumpeter plus album mix engineer and co-producer.

With a wonderfully Gershwin-esque introduction courtesy of pianist Rob Barron, Martin returned to the stage for a deluxe interpretation of “The Folks Who Live on the Hill”, where the sirenic power of her voice was matched by an arrangement of great tenderness and restraint, inexorably calling to mind the much-loved version by Peggy Lee arranged by Nelson Riddle.

Prefaced by a single stroke on tubular bells, a repeating two-note ostinato in the strings and a hugely powerful brass chorale, Au transformed Joni Mitchell’s "Carey" from her 1971 album Blue into a lost masterpiece by Aaron Copland – a surprise addition to the evening’s music-making and one of the first set’s standout moments, as was the delicious reboot of Cole Porter’s “I Concentrate on You” with its haunting countermelody.

Highlights of the second set included two further instrumental pieces by Au, The Odyssey-inspired (and award-winning) “The Weaver”, which featured significant concertante roles for Teimoori (on tenor), Dowdeswell and Barron, plus an arrangement of the shimmering tone poem “Skara Brae” which featured solo roles for harpist Hugh Webb, a string quartet led by violinist John Mills, and Jessamy Holder on bass clarinet.

The incendiary charge of “Hello, Young Lovers!”, featuring Martin in the company of the big band, threatened to dislodge one or two of the hall’s light fittings, while her take on the bittersweet “I Never Went Away”, composed by her late friend and collaborator Richard Rodney Bennett, went straight to the heart.

A further blast of Cole Porter, “It's All Right with Me”, plus the heartfelt encore of “I’ll Be Seeing You”, brought this remarkable album launch to a close. From the marmoreal smoothness of the orchestral playing and the fierce intensity of the big band, to the amaranthine beauty of Martin’s voice, it had most definitely been worth the wait.

@MrPeterQuinn 

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